But What Do All The Food Label Claims Mean??


Let’s be honest…when you walk around a grocery store it can be overwhelming.  Especially if you are in there with the intention of choosing healthy, nutritious items which you may or may not be familiar with.  You walk in and are immediately surrounded by shiny, bright colored packaging and tricky, catchy phrases that marketing departments spent hours creating to get you to notice and hopefully buy their product.  But can you really trust them??  That’s a whole different story and probably best saved for a different post.  😉

However, I do know when your are trying to do your best to eat healthy it can be frustrating not knowing what the different claims mean and whether or not you should buy one item over another because of said claim on the package.  Luckily IIN provided me with a bunch of information on all of this (just one of the reasons I absolutely LOVED the program – so please let me know if you are interested in becoming a Health Coach) 🙂  SO to help you out, I’m going to give you the low-down on what these different claims mean to hopefully clear the air and instill a little confidence into your supermarket swagger…..


This one, thankfully, is pretty straight forward.  It simply means that an animal was NOT given antibiotics during it’s lifetime.  This is the same as “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics administered”.


This one is a little more tricky.  All this means is that the birds were raised without cages.  This does NOT explain whether they were raised outdoors on pasture or indoors in overcrowded disgusting conditions.  If you are wanting to buy eggs and/or poultry that was raised outdoors, you need to look for a label that say “pastured” or “pasture-raised”.


This term along with “free-roaming” are only defined by the USDA for egg and poultry products.  This label means that the producers allow the birds to have access to the outdoors so that they can partake in natural behaviors.  However, it does NOT necessarily mean that the products are cruelty-free or antibiotic-free, or that the birds spent the majority of their time outdoors.  The claims behind this label are only defined by the USDA, but are not verified by third-party inspectors.


GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals.  Products can be labeled “GMO-free” if they are produced without being genetically engineered through the use of GMO’s.


This is another self-explanatory one – animals raised on a grain diet are labeled “grain-fed”.  However, you may want to check the label for a “100% vegetarian diet” claim to make sure the animals were fed with feed that doesn’t contain any animal by-products.


This means that the animals were fed their natural diet of grass instead of grains.  This is both more humane and also results in meat that is more lean and lower in fat and calories than grain-fed meat.  Grass-fed animals are not fed grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones or antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease (although they may have been given antibiotics to treat disease at some point).  Note that a “grass-fed” label doesn’t mean an animal was fed grass it’s ENTIRE life.  Some grass-fed cattle are grain-finished, which means they ate grain from a feedlot before slaughter.  This meat is still a “better” choice than grain-fed cattle, but you want to look for “grass-fed and grass-finished”.


If a food is labeled “healthy” it must be low in saturated fats and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium.  Certain foods must also contain at least 10% of the following: Vitamin A or C, Iron, Calcium, Protein or Fiber.


The term “hormone-free” is actually prohibited by the USDA.  However, animals raised without added growth hormones can be labeled “no hormones administered” or “no added hormones”.  By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones.


As of now, no standards exist for this particular label except when used on meat and poultry products.  USDA guidelines state that “natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain any artificial colors, artificial preservatives, artificial flavors or other artificial ingredients.  However, note that “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, humanely raised or free of hormones or antibiotics.


This label indicates that the animal was raised on a pasture where it was able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn.  Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in the most humane manner.  The animals are able to move around freely and carry out their natural behaviors.  This term is very similar to “grass-fed”, although the term “pasture-raised” indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture.


As verified by a USDA-approved independent agency, all organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines:

– Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and sewage sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.

– Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and irradiation.

– Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices

– Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock

– Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals

– Sustain animals on 100% organic feed

– Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products

– Keep records of all operations

If a product contains the “USDA Organic” seal, it means that 95 – 100% of its ingredients are organic.  Products with 70 – 95% organic ingredients can still advertise “organic ingredients” on the label, and products with less than 70% organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel.  Organic foods prohibit the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.


Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), is a genetically engineered growth hormone that is injected into dairy cows to artificially increase their milk production.  The hormone has not been properly tested for safety, and it’s use is not permitted in the European Union, Canada and some other countries.  Milk labeled “rBGH-Free” is produced by dairy cows that never received the injections of this hormone.  Organic milk is rBGH free.

There you have it….secrets revealed.  Hopefully this list can help you make more educated choices while you’re choosing which foods to fuel you and your family with. Was any of this information new and/or shocking to you?  I know when it was first presented to me, it was very eye opening.  I know there are many more labels and many more claims out there that I didn’t cover, but these highlighted some of the most popular and most prominent claims.  I always tell my clients that the bottom line when it comes to food is “JERF” Just Eat Real Food.  Sticking to foods that are the closest to how they are found in nature is your best bet.  Let’s hear it…do you buy food based on any of these or other food label claims??


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